The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Shaun Sarrett is the biggest reason that the running game has not been effective for most of the season.
Explanation: The Steelers had arguably the best offensive line in the league for a good half-decade while Mike Munchak was instructing them. He left in a lateral move last year, and since then, the play of the offensive line, at least in the running game, has left something to be desired.
James Conner was running very effectively, for the most part, in 2018, Munchak’s final year, and would have had a 1000-yard season had he not missed three games. He was voted outright into the Pro Bowl after scoring 13 touchdowns with nearly 1500 yards from scrimmage.
A lot of that was because the Steelers were blocking open holes. This year, a lot of his success has been because he has been creating his own yardage, and their other running backs are not as effective at it. the Steelers are tied for last in rushing yards per play. Their run success rate continues to drop.
It’s not just personnel. We have seen, by and large, these same players do a much more effective job in the past. Only now they look less tight, less cohesive, less fundamentally sound. That sounds like a coaching issue.
While the run blocking hasn’t always been great—it’s been particularly frustrating the past two weeks—this is still a unit that was actually effective in the first half of the season, with four 100-yard rushers in the first five weeks. They were able to close out games by grinding out yards on the ground. Benny Snell even managed to do that last week.
They have also been without Maurkice Pouncey the past two games, and shuffled the offensive line this year, with Matt Feiler moving inside. Zach Banner was lost in the opener, and Chukwuma Okorafor was the backup for a reason. Sarrett has been coaching this group for a long time. Not all execution errors are on the coaches. Sometimes guys just have to make plays they’re not making.